SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- Chula Vista city officials have placed the controversial statue of explorer Christopher Columbus in storage "out of public safety concerns."
City spokeswoman Anne Steinberger said the bronze statue was removed early Friday morning from its platform at Discovery Park in the Rancho Del Rey neighborhood.
The Columbus statue has been at the park on 700 Buena Vista Way for nearly three decades, but it has been a frequent target of vandals. Last Columbus Day, the statue was doused with red paint.
The city had been hearing arguments for and against the removal of the statue with many people -- including local Native American tribes -- calling the sculpture a symbol of hate, theft of land, and genocide.
The debate became heated Feb. 26 when representatives from both sides faced off in a Chula Vista Human Relations Commission meeting. The fiery session prompted Chula Vista police to respond.
At the meeting, Chula Vista City Councilman John McCann, with members of the Knights of Columbus standing by his side, called for the statue to be left alone.
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The following night, the committee voted unanimously in favor of a proposal that includes the removal of the statue. The approved a resolution has been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
"Due to restrictions related to coronavirus, there has not been an opportunity to hold a public forum for community dialogue," said Steinberger. "It is expected that the item will be brought forward for further public input and consideration."
It's unclear how long the statue will remain in storage or if the city has decided it will remain there permanently. In a statement regarding its removal, City Councilman Steve Padilla said, "Many have asked for its removal, and given all that is happening nationwide regarding America’s legacy of racism, the City decided to put it in storage."
"I look forward to an important community conversation about the final fate of the statue, as well as further actions the City can take to ensure that ALL Chula Vistans feel safe and welcome in our community," said Padilla.
The city's decision to stow the statue comes amid national-turned-global Black Lives Matter protests against racism and police brutality stemming from the in-custody death of a black man, George Floyd, who died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck as he begged for air.
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In response to call for racial justice, various citiesand institutions have taken steps to eradicate symbols honoring controversial figures including public statues of Confederate soldiers. This last week, Nascar and the U.S. Marine Corps announced a ban on public displays of the Confederate battle flag.
Demand for action has even extended to Disney. A petition posted on Change.org asks that company remove all references to its 1946 film "Song of the South" from the water ride Splash Mountain.